“hello, hello?”, Ma Durga hold in one of her hands a mobile to reach MACC overMIC corrupt practices

Next time round, should an image of Ma Durga hold in one of her hands a mobile phone as a symbol of power? What with the modern makeover given to much of puja imagery these days, such a hi-tech departure from tradition might not be deemed to be iconographically inappropriate.

Shimmering heat in a shamiana-covered puja bari. As children play around boisterously, women rush by wearing beautiful saris and busy expressions, and an un-intending comic fiddles with a mike on a stage, filling the warm October air with “hello, hello?”, expectant eaters sit down to feast on melting khichuri, sweet, molten chutney, delicately spiced vegetables – and a kheer of rice pearls soaked in thick, sweet milk.

: Several businessmen have lodged a report with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) against a senior and most trusted aide of cabinet member and MIC president G Palanivel.

The report is over alleged corrupt practices involved in the handing out of cooking oil packing contracts overseen by Palanivel in his capacity as the lead minister of Indian Affairs in the Prime Minister’s Department.

The report accused Dr S Vijendran, who until last week was the political secretary of Palanivel but has since been redesignated as private secretary to the minister, of manipulating the cooking oil packing contracts to favour one particular contractor.

“We are frustrated with Dr Vijendran’s involvement in the cooking oil packing contract which is supposed to be open for all deserving Indian entrepreneurs,” said one of the complainants who wished to be unnamed for now.

He said that the MACC should take immediate steps to look into the alleged corrupt practices as it was hampering the growth of genuine Indian entrepreneurs. The report was made yesterday despite it being a public holiday.

“If there is no action taken soon, we will hold a rally against Palanivel for still relying on Vijendran on matters involving the Indian business community,” he said.

Cooking oil packing contract

Giving a background to the cooking oil packing contract, the businessman said the federal government had recently agreed to award the contract to Indian entrepreneurs as a way to give them room to be successful in business.

The distribution of the contract was handled by Suria Cooperative Society which is chaired by Palanivel, who had then left it in the hands of Vijendran to pick the deserving Indian businessmen to service the contract.

Originally seven Indian companies had been identified for the contract but five of them were rejected for not holding a Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry (KPDNKK) licence.

And from the two qualified companies, Vijendran allegedly decided to pick only one as the other did not apparently meet the requirements set by Suria Cooperative Society.

At the same time, Vijendran also had allegedly turned away other companies who had obtained the KPDNKK licence. He is also accused of asking these new companies to become sub-contractors to one particular company.

“Why is he giving special privilege to the particular company when the contract is meant to help the Indian business community? Why is Palanivel keeping quiet over this matter?” asked the complainant. He wants the MACC to investigate this.

He also claimed that Vijendran’s action had only resulted in the sole contract winner of making hefty profits.

“By having more Indian companies on board, more people would enjoy the benefits instead of one or two connected individuals,” he said.

Palanivel’s trusted aide

The complainants also questioned the huge power and authority wielded by Vijendran in Suria Cooperative Society although he does not hold any position in the cooperative which was set up to help the Indian business community.

“We want the MACC to investigate who is behind Vijendran and the special privileges given to a particular company,” he said.

Vijendran, popularly known as Dr Vijay, is widely known as Palanivel’s most trusted aide, who on most occassions performs tasks on behalf of the minister. He is also said to be involved in seat negotiations and candidate selections for MIC, on behalf of the party president.

However in recent weeks he had come under a huge spotlight over his status as a bankrupt. According to documents seen by FMT, the Department of Insolvency had declared Vijendran a bankrupt on March 1, 2011.

Arising from this, some quarters have questioned his position as Palanivel’s political secretary – a position he could not assume as a bankrupt.

Following this, he had clarified that he was only a private secretary to Palanivel despite his name cards stating his position as a political secretary. He has also denied that he was a bankrupt.

Palanivel himself had not issued any statement on this matter but FMT learnt that Vijendran was redesignated as a private secretary early this week, with his salary being paid by Palanivel himself.

Umno is finding itself increasingly isolated despite having three million members. But then the Malay population in country is far more than Umno’s three million members.

In 2008, the Malay population was 5.7 million. Umno’s candidates only garnered two million Malay votes.

This means than one million of Umno’s own members did not support the party because they realised that the policies touted by Umno were destroying the country.

Umno only managed to gather 35% of the Malay votes. In 2008 total voter turnout was 10.9 million. Malays formed 52% of the voters.

In the 13th general election, the voter turnout is expected to be 11.58 million. Malay voter turnout is expected to increase to 55% or 6.37 millions.

Umno is expected to garner only 2.4 million votes this time round.

This time the party, whose president Najib Tun Razak, accursed its people, will have to seek the support of the Bangladeshi, Nepalese, Vietnamese, Myanmarees and the Indonesians to win.

This fact is a clear act of treason. The right to vote belongs exclusively to Malaysian citizens.

Isn’t it curse when immigrants are given citizenships? Why has this happened to Umno which has long since been slogeneering about Malay struggle?

The answer is because the Malays have realised that since 1988, Umno’s struggle has been for totalitarian power.

Umno’s chief crony

This totalitarian power enabled Umno leaders and their cronies to plunder the country’s wealth. Don’t believe me?

The chief Umno crony, Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary – a good friend of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Muhyiddin Yassin – today owns and controls a litany of companies including MMC, DRB Hicom, Proton, Malakoff,  Johor Port,  Senai Airport, Port of Tanjong Pelepas, Bank Muamalat, Padiberas Nasional, CSR Sugar, Gardenia, MPH Bookstores and  Penang Port

This same man is now eyeing RTM, KTMB and Bank Islam.

This wealthy Malay became a billionaire because he worked hard to become a super-crony of Mahathir and Muhyiddin. Almost all his wealth was handed to him on a gold plate.

This is the kind of people who support Umno. The ordinary member, he’s just good for the crowd and to scream ‘Hidup Melayu”.

We Malays keep quiet because Bukhary is a fellow Malay.

This is the attitude that is touted by the very government that is prepared to go to any length to retain its totalitarian hold on the country.

But the Malays have wisened up. In the 13th general election, the Malays will show themselves

As Malaysia moves to abolish the death penalty for convicted drug traffickers, perhaps it might be timely as well to instead impose the death penalty on those convicted and found guilty of corruption as this menace has long since replaced drug abuse as Public Enemy No. 1 in this country.

Imposing the death penalty on the corrupt will only be a right and wise measure as corruption since the advent of the Mahathir regime makes drug abuse and trafficking look like a petty crime in comparison with the evil and suffering, pain and hardship and deprivation that corruption has and is causing Malaysians.

Somewhere down the line, only hard and punitive measures can act as a deterrent to prevent corruption from further causing misery to the untold damage it has already done, and imposing the death penalty, as in the case of communist China, is the only way forward in combating and eliminating the crime of corruption in Malaysia as well.

The reason why desperate, drastic action needs to be taken to rein-in corruption is because the pillars of justice has been shaken to the ground by widespread and runaway corruption in this country with more people jumping on the bandwagon to be corrupt which should effectively destroy the country if left unchecked.

As it stands corruption since the Mahathir regime has already caused a great deal of suffering and injustice and if no serious attempts are made to contain and eradicate this crisis, it will cause Malaysian society to disintegrate and create a breakdown of law and order.

Corruption in Malaysia has reached a crisis level

While not willing to sound alarmist, it pays to heed what corruption watchdog councils in this country and abroad are saying about the level of corruption that Malaysians and foreigners are witness to in this country.

While the Barisan Nasional government which has solely governed Malaysia since independence in 1957 from the British is often stating via their propaganda machinery that “corruption in this country is merely a perception,” Malaysians in the know are more likely to state that corruption is a very severe problem in this country.

While the extent and widespread rate and frequency of corruption in this country cannot be fully and exactly ascertained, the open and blatant manner in which corruption is now taking place goes to show clearly and evidently that corruption has become a way of life in this country and is being endorsed by the BN government.

Without the feeling of any fear or guilt over their acts of corruption, Malaysian government officials are now more “tongue-in-cheek” and boldly confident that they are above the law and cannot be prosecuted despite being knowingly corrupt.

The reason for this brave and emboldened approach by government ministers and officials is because they are in power and have ganged up to cover each other to ensure they are free from any prosecution or conviction.

The glaring fact that the top brass of Malaysian government is shamelessly corrupt causes those below the pecking order to also follow suit and this is why gross and grave acts of injustice, pain and suffering have to be endured by those who walk the straight and narrow in this country.

The sanction and widespread use of corruption by the BN government of Malaysia especially since Mahathir Mohammad came to power has perverted the cause of justice and the balance or “dacing” symbol used by BN is really now weighing heavily in favor of the corrupt.

The facts and myths of corruption

Most Malaysians in this globalized era are deeply occupied and engrossed in bread-and-butter issues of the day and do not, understandably, have the time to reflect and ponder on the menace of corruption and have as expected left it to the governing authorities to handle the problem.

But what Malaysians fail to realize is that their bread-and-butter woes are going to get from bad to worse if they do not pay heed and attention to the fact that it is really corruption that this at the root of all evil in this country and this is why life in this country is getting harder and more difficult.

By right, based on economic advancement and progress made by this country, Malaysians should be far better off and be enjoying a much higher Quality of-Life. Instead the contrary is being witnessed as Malaysians are being denied their rightful dues by those who are in power that are corrupt and who are sharing the spoils of the corrupt among themselves.

The average and the majority of Malaysians, perhaps due to their preoccupation with daily living, are blissfully unaware that for decades the BN government has been indulging in wholesale and widespread thieving and corrupt activities at their expense.

Malaysians of all walks of life should be by now enjoying a much more better Quality-of-Life, and if they are not, the reason can be solely pinned down to the fact that they have been hoodwinked and denied by most of those whom they have voted and endorsed to hold power in this country.

What now for Malaysians?

The scenario now for Malaysians has really become a queer mix because they either have to join the corrupt to enjoy prosperity or they have to stand united in a decision to fight corruption.

While the easier option might be to just join the corrupt, the fact of the matter is that it will not only spell the destruction of this nation more quickly, but the real fact is that the sheer and vicious greed of the powers-that-be is such that they are not willing to share the spoils of corruption with just about any Ali, Ah Kow and Ramasamy.

Besides this, the fact is to join the camp of corruption will require you to sell your soul to the devil and to perform acts of injustice and acts that cause unfairness, and inflicts pain, hardship and suffering to the innocent.

This is why most right-thinking Malaysians do not wish to taint or destroy themselves by engaging in acts of corruption with the corrupt. But how do you prosper or even survive in this country if you do not participate and stoop to the wishes of those who can reward you and unfortunately who are also largely corrupt?

This is the dilemma facing most Malaysians – that they will have to suffer want, deprivation and hardship unless they join the corruption bandwagon and this is a much easier option which seems to appeal to more and more weak-willed Malaysians.

This is precisely why the whole specter and scenario of the fight against corruption for so long has been just a farce and also why most Malaysians are of the view that it is a lost cause, a doomed mission in which they are powerless to do anything.

By more and more Malaysians throwing in the towel in the fight against corruption or, perhaps worse, by opting to participate in corruption in order to prosper, the stage is actually being set to witness Malaysia become a failed state because of being governed by a corrupt administration.

The best thing for Malaysians to do now

In order to see a Malaysia as a great and prosperous nation in the future and as a country which offers a hope and bright future for all our descendants, there is a dire need for Malaysians to stand united together, no matter what the price, in the fight against corruption.

It is time for the right-thinking Malaysian to come forward and stand up and be counted in a real and serious struggle to fight and eliminate corruption and to ensure that the corrupt face the music and return fully all that has been pilfered from the people.

The wealth of the nation belongs to the people. It does not belong to politicians or civil servants and there needs to be serious and concerted action taken to regain all that has been unfairly lost by the rakyat to those who are corrupt.

It is time to spring clean the country and weed out the corrupt no matter of what rank or standing in society and to ensure that no one is above the law and that the corrupt are duly punished while that which they have gained by way of corruption is returned in full back to the people.

For this to happen and be realized, Malaysians need to in the coming 13th GE vote for those whom they have faith and confidence and belief, those who will not betray them and who will hold political office with diligence and integrity and serve the people.

For some this might seem a titanic struggle that is better left alone. But the fact of the matter is that if Malaysians don’t rally and fight against corruption and remove those who are corrupt from holding office, than the way is paved towards witnessing the dreams and aspirations of a beautiful, wonderful Malaysia for everyone to die by way of corruption.

My loved memories of a Durga Puja bhog include sitting within a row of such enthusiasts, ready to savour what is, in fact, a very simple meal. It is this culinary line-up that forms the core of the Bengali puja bhog, served as the dhak dhols drum up their invigorating rhythm, as young children dance before a benevolent goddess, as priests sway sinuously, almost intoxicated by the clouds of incense devotees spread before the idol, her features sharply etched even through the fragrant mist.

The bhog is the blessed food of the Durga Puja, a ritual meal lasting five days of the annual religious ceremony. It is eaten at lunch, traditionally by rows of persons seated on the puja bari floor, ladled out by volunteers rushing around importantly, holding large pails of steaming khichuri, straw baskets of fried vegetables and the eagerly-anticipated kheer in delicate pots. The bhog is laced with business-like shouts between eaters and servers (“Dada, eikhane baigune aaro laagbe!” More fried brinjal here, my brother!), sweetened by banter, even amongst strangers.

Anyone can join a Durga Puja bhog and it isn’t uncommon to see an affluent professional sitting beside a destitute child, both sharing in the goddess’ blessings. While its egalitarianism makes it special, in a land famous for ‘banqueting culture’, anthropologist Jack Goody remarks that all Indian life-cycle rituals and religious ceremonies come with ‘large-scale feasting’, the Durga Puja bhog forms part of a silken cultural continuum.

Yet, it stands out with its utter simplicity. Why is the Durga Puja bhog so enduringly simple amidst a huge Bengali repertoire of rich fish curries, glorious mutton gravies, glistening pilaus, languorous daals and intricate sweetmeats? Part of the bhog’s charm lies in its simplicity which makes it practical in many ways. This menu – khichuri, fried or curried vegetables, sweet chutney, kheer – is inexpensive and easy to make, both important factors considering that bhog is always a community repast, not a private affair. Making khichuri or kheer is doable for all kinds of cooks, the highly trained to the nervous novice. Similarly, chutney can be prepared in advance and frying aubergines or currying potatoes doesn’t require much more skill than patience. These foods are also light on the digestion, nutritious and balanced, while providing a palette of soft colours pleasing to the eye.

But there’s more at play here than pragmatism – this menu has its roots deep within Bengali culture. This is the fare of a paddy-growing people, who cannot imagine a meal without the rice they labour over, adding vegetables that grow abundantly around the beautiful pukurs or lush water bodies rural Bengal is famous for. Khichuri is so much a part of daily Bengali fare that it is rumoured this was the quick dish a peasant – as surprised as his visitor – presented Job Charnock, Calcutta’s colonial founder, when he landed at Sutamati in 1690.

It was only logical that this repast, along with local vegetables and much-loved kheer, became the puja bhog presented by wealthy landlords hosting grand pujas in their palatial rural homes – for once, feeding the landless who served them through the year. The practice outlived the landowners themselves, travelling into democratic times, post-Independence puja committees in new urban paras selecting menus from older times, decided in modern ways.

But here’s the intriguing question – even as other elements of the puja have evolved, miniskirts a common sight within pandals, cultural shows often featuring hard-rock bands, diasporas depending on taped recitations of the prayers – how did the puja bhog remain so markedly simple? Feasts to warrior goddesses in other parts of the world are highly elaborate and grand affairs. Homer’s ecstatic descriptions of feasts in honour of the martial Greek goddess Athena, waxing lyrical over roasted meats, fried fish and sweetbreads, is not unfamiliar to the Bengali palate which relishes richness in its diet. Why then do Bengalis deny themselves sumptuousness at their most important religious event?

My guess is, this is linked with the nature of the goddess they worship. Ma Durga is a warrior goddess – but in her other forms, she is as much a nurturer and creator as destroyer. Her shakti is in fact in her restraint. It is tempting to see the Durga Puja bhog as a reflection of the Mother’s own simplicity, her ability to hold back, her gentleness which endures the harshest battles, her integral purity of thought, being and action.

There is an IAS officer in the state that I live in. In 2003, he disappeared without informing his bosses. For five years there was no trace of him, officially that is. Everybody knew that he was in the US. The government (read his colleagues in the IAS) was kind enough to persist with his ‘service’ and merely mark him “AWOL” (absent without leave). Then one day in 2008 he showed up. The government made motions of asking him why he was missing from service but he provided some answers that would put the mythological Shravan Kumar to shame (that his father in law who lived in a different city in India was unwell and he was tending to his medical needs all this while!). “Satisfied” with these answers, the government took back the officer. Of course, anywhere in the private sector he would have lost his job within a few weeks of his absconding. But this is not the end of the story. On December 31, 2011, that is, over the weekend, the officer retired on attaining the age of superannuation. To make his exit smooth, the government (read other IAS babus) on the last day of his service closed an inquiry pertaining to some alleged wrongdoing by him long ago. If the file had not been closed the gentleman would not have got his pension. A typical case of the government being one of IAS officers, by IAS officers and for IAS officers?

Read on. In the same state an IAS officer has been named in an FIR for a major case filed by the CBI as accused number 1. The case relates to loss of hundreds of crores to the exchequer. There are many other accused including “unknown some” in the FIR. But the CBI has gone ahead and arrested these unknown some and even as they are spending time behind bars, this IAS gentleman is very much in his office. Of course, I am not saying that the officer is guilty, but the fact is that he is accused number 1. Incidentally the gentleman is the principal secretary, department of home of the state government and nobody thought it fit to at least shift him to a less important post pending the FIR. What sort of signal does the public get when the accused No. 1 in a major case of corruption continues to function as the principal secretary, department of home? But as I said this is a case of a government of IAS officers, by IAS officers and for IAS officers. This is the biggest brotherhood in the country but yet the Lokpal Bill thrust by Anna Hazare and acquiesced in by the Union government concentrates more on bringing in the 55 lakh Group C and D employees under the ambit of the proposed ombudsman. This is only going to add to the burden of the Lokpal’s machinery and will result in an enormous burden on the exchequer, while the big fish will continue to flourish.

You want to hear more stories? There is an upcoming golf club in this city. A decade or so ago, golfers keen to pursue their game went and met the chief secretary asking him for land. The chief secretary said that it was fine but asked for a concession, senior government officers (read mostly IAS officers) must be allowed to become members of the club at nominal rates and they should also have a say in the management of the club (never forget even if they do not know the g of golf). So a decade later, while genuine golfers pay Rs 7.5 lakhs for a lifetime membership, the IAS brotherhood pays peanuts: Rs15,000 for the membership that brings along with it other club facilities for socializing, eating and drinking. More concessions are given to these superbabus: they were allowed to pass over the membership to not only their kin but also third parties for a nominal fee (opening up scope for black marketeering?). The story has not ended. Now that the club is growing bigger, the superbabus want to increase the number of memberships for them. At present, there are 200 babu members but more joining the ranks of babudom they are demanding 100 more.

I guess that the golfers can do nothing to resist this because the premises of the club is adjacent to a 500-year-old historical fort that is under the charge of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The golf greens has now started encroaching on the premises of the fort. But the ASI is silent. Why? Possibly this is because both the ASI director general and his boss the secretary, department of culture, are IAS officers. The story doing the rounds is that the latter is a golfer but it is quite possible that the duo at Delhi are not even aware of these violations. The funniest thing is that the government of India (GOI) is now sending (or has recently sent) a proposal to Unesco so that the fort and its premises can be declared a heritage site. Perhaps for these superbabus, golf greens is an example of the type of heritage that must be protected in this country.

These are a few examples of wrongdoing perpetrated by the IAS brotherhood that I have seen in this city. There are many other examples too numerous to be recounted. I am sure there are equally potent one in other states. I am quite convinced by what I see around that a large number of IAS officers are rank corrupt, though an equally large number are honest to the core. The really corrupt ones have made tens of crores. And for the information of the ilk of Baba Ramdev, this money is not kept in Swiss Banks. It is deployed to buy land and to run benami businesses. Everybody knows the names of corrupt IAS officers but nothing can be done to them. Many of them move around as if they are paragons of virtue. Anna Hazare and his team instead of concentrating on that elusive Lokpal Bill that focuses on 55 lakh small employees should think about how to tackle the big fish. For this is required an understanding of what makes these big babus corrupt.

Many so-called intellectuals think that corruption in the IAS can be controlled by increase their salaries to a sufficiently high level. They point to the ICS officers of the British times who were honest. But they miss the main point. The ICS officers were honest because they had no elected government to report to. Today’s politician coming up all the way through the grind for a five year term wants to break even or make profits to try to get elected for a new term. So he does illegal things and forces the superbabus to toe his line. But the superbabus of IAS can resist: because theirs is an almost lifetime employment till the age of superannuation. Nobody can sack them or throw them out of employment. The maximum that can be done is to be transferred to positions that have no scope for work and therefore corruption. But so used they have become to good life that many of them have started collaborating with the netas. It is this corruption and wrongdoing of IAS babus that has to be curbed first. This is what Anna an his team and in fact all of us should concentrate on instead of trying to nab that traffic constable who takes Rs 50 to look the other way as you jump the signals.

It is in emulating Ma Durga’s self-control that the Bengali puja feast is, in fact, a fast, hidden inside simple fare, which delights as much as it restrains.


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